Cleaning Hacks

Here’s Exactly How To Get Pesky Olive Oil Stains Out of Clothes, According to a Cleaning Expert

Emily Laurence

Photo: Getty Images/Westend61
It happened while I was playing a dangerous game of carrying a plate of salad, glass of water, and my phone over to my computer so I could eat lunch while answering some emails. I set my water on the desk, plopped down my phone, and was about to do the same with my plate when my fork—covered in olive oil I drizzled on top of my greens—toppled off the plate and collided with my left thigh.

I looked down in horror. These were my good sweatpants! I had literally just bought them—a splurge justified by the endless months spent inside—and now there was a big ‘ol oily wet spot right in the front. And was it just my imagination or did it seem to be growing by the second? I stripped down and dabbed my sweats with water, but I couldn’t tell if I was making it better or worse. So, after throwing them in the washer hoping I was doing the right thing, I decided to reach out to a cleaning expert, Rytina Fine Cleaners owner Katie Brown, and share her insights here—just in case you find yourself in the same predicament.

“The moment you dribble olive oil on your outfit, immediately blot the spill with a cloth until as much as possible is absorbed,” Brown tells me. She specifies that it’s best to use a white cloth if you have one so that the colored dye from the cloth won’t transfer to your clothes. “While this step will not entirely remove the spill, it will keep the oil from wicking into surrounding fibers,” she says. “Natural fibers like cotton will absorb the oil quickly while synthetic fibers put up more resistance giving you a better chance to absorb the spill.”

If you have some baking soda or salt in your pantry, Brown says to sprinkle them on the blotted stain, as both can help absorb the oil. Brown says it won’t be 100 percent effective, but it will help. “Using this method for other oil-based stains like salad dressing is fine, however, likely will not help with the absorption of other ingredients like vinegar or mustard,” she adds.

However, Brown says you should not do what I did: use water to try to get the stain out. “A common problem washing your treated olive oil stain at home is related to the fact that oil repels water,” she says. “Likely not all the olive oil will wash out and then when the garment is dried using heat the spot becomes a stain set in the garment.”

Instead, Brown says it’s better to dab the stain with your dry white washcloth (with some baking soda or salt) and then take it to the dry cleaners. This sort of stain calls for some professional help. “Taking your olive oil garment to the dry cleaners is fool-proof,” she says. “Dry cleaning solvents are designed to solubilize oils or other hydrophobic compounds.”

If you can’t drop everything and go to the dry cleaners, Brown says to leave your stain alone until you can take it there. “Often people feel the need to pre-treat the spot, however, this only makes the dry cleaner’s job of removing the spot more difficult,” she says. “At the end of the day, it’s all science at the cleaners!” And of course the earlier you do take it to the professionals, the more hope your garment has.

Friends, I got all this news too late and now my fancy sweats have a small stain still on them. But because I’m a klutz with a bad habit of eating at my laptop, that olive oil stain surely won’t be my last. At least next time I’ll know exactly what to do. Here’s to looking a little less sloppy in 2021.

Yes, olive oil stains. But luckily its taste (and health benefits) more than make up for that flaw: 

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